From chocolate sculpting to toilet marketing, Cambodia can offer unusual job opportunities for those wanting to try something new. Ellie Dyer and Marissa Carruthers seek some employment inspiration from passionate residents and visitors for whom weird, wonderful adventures are an everyday occurrence. Photography by Charles Fox and Dylan Maddux.
With a scalpel clutched in his white-gloved hand, Philip Moser circles the six-foot-high chocolate spirit house in a chilly temperature-controlled room near the capital’s German Embassy. After careful consideration, he whittles out a groove on its roof, adding touch after touch to create a realistic representation of the home shrine.
“Culture is fascinating. You discover a country, you discover people, ways of life, traditional art. To share that — it’s kind of like sharing my trip,” says the German-French chocolatier, who first began experimenting with carving the sweet substance while working as a pastry chef. It was a trip to Madagascar in 2006 to meet coco plantation owners that led Moser to create his own high-end chocolate company, called Xoco.Phil, in Switzerland in 2009. The niche company uses quality goods to produce a range of chocolates, with Moser flying across the world to countries including Cambodia to source ingredients such as beans, sugars and spices.
“I try to be a control freak on my ingredients,” he says, emphasising the deep respect and fascination he has with all things chocolate, divulging that he can easily eat a pound of it a day.
Though undoubtedly a dream job for chocoholics, carving intricate sculptures — which have in the past included a traditional Madagascan totem pole — for international exhibitions is a delicate task.
Sculptures have taken up to 300 hours to create, and are carefully planned out using computer programs to set proportions. Once, disaster struck when Moser created a chocolate clock that fell and broke within the first hour of a show.
“Chocolate is very precise, if you make a mistake you’ll see it,” he explains. “When you get into it, it’s a fascinating raw material.”
Though Moser admits that “maybe once every two years, I have a little Toblerone phase” the 30-year-old stays away from industrial chocolate, highlighting the purity of quality chocolate and the blossom notes of Ecuadorian varieties compared to fruity Madagascan fare.
“For a lot of people chocolate equals chocolate … but then if you tell them coffee equals coffee, they might be picky about it. It’s like telling someone who smokes cigars that a Cuban cigar and a Cambodian cigar is the same thing,” he says. “In theory, yes, but it’s not.”
Plunging blind into the murky depths of the Mekong to salvage tens of thousands of unexploded bombs that litter the riverbed will become a daily occurrence for Dos Phalla when the country’s first underwater clear-up launches next year.
The 40-year-old joined the ranks of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) in 2001 as its public relations officer. When the call was made for recruits to help recover artillery shells and bullets that lie at the bottom of the country’s lakes and rivers, he decided it was time for a change.
“We are the first in Cambodia to do this and there are a lot of explosives still underwater here,” he says. “I want to be the person that can help people in Cambodia from the impact of both landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs).”
Phalla was one of 10 Cambodians who graduated from the first dive course to locate underwater UXOs after four weeks of intensive training supported by the US Department of State’s office for weapons removal and abatement. The course, which took place in February, saw the divers learn to swim before going on to deep sea dive in Sihanoukville.
This year the graduates will complete another two courses on locating and salvaging explosives before starting to recover deadly munitions that were dropped during the 1960s and 70s. During this time, it is believed about 300 ships were sunk in the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, with some boats filled with up to 1,000 tonnes of munitions. The team of divers have been trained to carry out work to remove these remains, which still pose a threat to Cambodians.
Despite facing deadly dangers at every turn, Phalla says helping to make his homeland safe is a top priority for him. “I want to make Cambodia peaceful and I’m very proud and happy to be part of this,” he says.
“I have enjoyed the work so far but I know that every minute is dangerous. You don’t know if one minute you will die or your friend will die, and if we miss something on our mission it can be dangerous. You can’t see anything under the water. It is like coffee, so we have to be perfect and know clearly every step of the way what we are doing.”
Since 2009, the affable Canadian has, together with her partner Cordell Jacks, been immersed in the distinctly un-glamorous sanitation business thanks to her work as director of development organisation iDE’s Wash Initiative.
iDE helps train concrete producers in seven provinces to sell and distribute affordable latrines to local communities, in a bid to stem open defecation and make the most of an untapped market. Only 23 percent of Cambodia is thought to have latrine coverage. Though faeces can spread disease — more children die every year of diarrhoea related disease than malaria, HIV and tuberculosis combined — Baker points out that success is not rooted in lecturing households on health.
The key is offering an affordable and accessible toilet that people can aspire to own. “They have to want something. It’s not just a technical solution but something they can have pride in owning,” she says, pointing out that the “beautiful” white tiled latrine is a popular model among customers.
Training Cambodian business owners to actively sell latrines is honest, and sometimes graphic, work. Sellers sometimes take images of faeces and scenarios — such as not having a toilet when guests come — as sales tools to trigger customers’ emotions. “Within our work, we embrace the use of the word shit — it’s part making it not a taboo, and making it something very real,” she says.
Over the years, Baker has developed a fascination for bathrooms of the world, debating the ergonomics of squat versus sit-down latrines during the interview.
“I have so many pictures of toilets and I can’t help but look for houses with toilets as I’m driving through the countryside,” she adds.
Despite falling into the profession by chance — the couple sold their belongings intending to leave Canada and meet again in Kolkata, India, before landing their Cambodian jobs — it seems her passion for sanitation won’t abate anytime soon.
“I think first and foremost you have to love the work that you are doing, and Cordell and I love what we do. I hope and think that translates through to our team,” she says. “We always joke we never got to Kolkata. Fate brought us to toilets together.”
Technical support for iDE’s project work is provided by the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank.
Deep in Cambodia’s jungles, weighed down with microphone equipment, Adrian Stoeger listens carefully for sounds, from tweeting birds up in the canopy to croaking frogs and deafening cicadas hidden in the undergrowth.
“What I do is sit down, close my eyes, and I really concentrate on what’s happening,” explains the 37-year-old sonographer, who has traversed the Cambodian wilds in search of sounds to put on his iOS app ‘Ambinator’. “It’s like I want to imprint on myself what’s happening at the moment.”
Born in Germany and raised in France, Stoeger was always drawn to sound — an aptitude that led him first to play the guitar and later into a career as a sales manager for a music company. Ambinator, which immerses listeners in rich and complex atmospheric recordings, was born in 2009 after a discussion with a group of friends in Berlin.
When Stoeger moved to Cambodia with his wife last year, the app evolved from electronic sound to include jungle noise, which he hopes will enable listeners to take time out of a hectic modern world where they are constantly bombarded with visual images.
“What is extremely beneficial for me is closing the eyes, getting out of the visual thing, and just concentrate on what’s happening in the mind,” he explains. “This is what sound allows me to do — it’s a gate and an access to my inner world.”
The hunt for rich and complex acoustic ambience has led Stoeger to accompany NGOs on trips deep into Ratanakiri province and the Cardamom Mountains, sleeping in hammocks and trekking through inhospitable forests.
“I went through the whole range of possible emotions. On my first trip my backpack was way too heavy and it was April,” he recalls. “You are confronted with something very basic, just having to get along with yourself — the sweat and the smell.”
The experience reaped great aural rewards, including an encounter with a huge Hornbill in a remote clearing surrounded by frogs and cicadas.
“You could hear the flapping of the wings, and he moved directly into the axis of the microphone on a tree … and began making the loudest call I’d ever heard – I had goose bumps and my hair was standing on my head,” Stoeger says. “In a great recording or a great moment it’s almost a spiritual experience for me.”
Ambinator Jungle is available for $0.99 on iTunes.
The picture of perfection running across the pitch is hardly the image conjured up when you think of a rugby referee. For a start, Sophoan Peou is a woman, and she’s as far from the big, burly blokes that traditionally dominate the rugby pitch as an ant is from an elephant.
Despite her petite frame, she harbours a fire in her eyes and passion for the sport that mirrors any man’s. As she pounds the pitch, blowing hard on her whistle before shouting out orders, it’s obvious she has the ferocious drive necessary to referee any match from start to finish.
The 23-year-old became one of the country’s first female rugby referees two years ago after falling in love with the sport when she was introduced to it at school. Unperturbed by the aggression and keen to grapple in the middle of a scrum, she got stuck straight into the game.
“I liked it straight away because it’s a tough game,” she says. “I also like it because the rules are complicated. It’s all about teamwork and there is a lot of passion involved. You have to communicate well but it’s also a lot of fun.”
In 2005, a women’s rugby team was formed at NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant. Peou was drawn by the passion she saw on the pitch and signed up immediately. She went on to rise to the ranks of captain of Cambodian Rugby Union — training three hours a day— and has played in tournaments in Thailand and Laos for the Southeast Asian Games.
In 2010, she decided she wanted to turn her skills to refereeing and started an intensive training course, which included a 10-day stint in Hong Kong. Since then, she has refereed games across the world, including in Vietnam, Bali, Australia and Thailand, and currently serves as referee for the under-13s, under-19s and a team of deaf children.
As well as holding a passion for the game, the tourism student uses her refereeing skills to help promote equality among young children. “I always thought if boys can do it, so can women and that’s what I try and teach the kids. I want them to learn from a young age how to be fair and for it to be equal between men and women. That’s very important to me and I would like to see more girls involved in rugby,” she says.
For more information, visit cambodiarugby.net.